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Chalmette National Cemetery

I received these photos from Deena Collins Aucoin this Memorial Day morning. The first is of Chalmette National Cemetery in New Orleans. The second is the grave of Riley J. Collins from Jones County, MS. An avowed Unionist, Riley resisted service in the Confederate Army, and joined Co. E, 1st New Orleans infantry (although his gravestone says LA Infantry) on April 30, 1864. He died of disease the following August.

Deena is a descendant of Simeon Collins, brother of Riley. Both men, along with brother Jasper Collins and many nephews and cousins, were members of the Knight Band in the Free State of Jones. Three other Collins brothers–Warren, Stacy and Newton–deserted the Confederate Army and fought against it in the Big Thicket of East Texas.

Vikki Bynum, moderator

Riley J. Collins Grave, Chalmette National Cemetery

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E.M. DeVall, Sheriff of Civil War Jones County. Photo courtesy of Cindy DeVall

Note from Vikki Bynum, Moderator

Memories of the Knight Company and the “Free State of Jones” were passed down to descendants of both its supporters and its enemies. Few people opposed Newt Knight more strenuously during the Civil War than Sheriff E. M. DeVall. In 1895, Devall testified against Newt Knight on behalf of the U.S. government during Newt’s claims process (discussed at length in chapter four of Long Shadow of the Civil War).    

In this guest post, Sheriff DeVall’s great granddaughter discusses his life and family, and reflects on the DeVall family’s experiences and memories of the Civil War.

 

E. M. DeVall

by Cindy DeVall

Thank you for the opportunity to submit a few thoughts on my great grandfather, Edmond Maclin DeVall, sheriff of Jones County, Mississippi, during the Civil War. I read with great interest both of your books. I certainly do have a different perspective on the Civil War in Jones County as a result of your research and dedication to making sure that “the truth” is revealed. What seems very clear to me after reading the books is that there was no “solid south” and that within families and among in-laws, there was great passion about the war and over the need to fight it.

 Edmond Maclin DeVall (b. 1829 in SC) came to Jones County from South Carolina. His father, Neri B. DeVall, died intestate in 1845 in Edgefield District, and his widow, Mary (Truwit) DeVall came to Jones County with three sons and two daughters,  The eldest, Mary Elizabeth DeVall, married Hiram Anderson (son of Isaac)* in 1846. Edmond Maclin, being the eldest son, was given great responsibilities and by 1846 was already buying property in Jones County from Drury Bynum. In the 1850 census of Jones County, his mother lists real estate worth $350. Her brother, William Truwit of Mobile, bought 300 acres from Allen Anderson in “Old Town,” very near the Bynum Cemetery and the Anderson-Minter Cemetery. The 1853 state census of Jones Co lists Edmond Maclin as living with 2 males and 1 female. I can only assume his mother had died. He was 23 or 24 years old and had three siblings: Edward C., age 13; Melvoe Emily, age 11, and Charles N. age 9.

 My father, Leslie Coombs DeVall, Jr., (b. 1919-Ms) always talked about the importance of owning property. He said that his father stressed that you could lose your job or your money, but if you had land, you had roots. My grandfather surely must have had that reinforced from his father, Edmond Maclin. My father used to also speak about his grandfather being sheriff of Jones County during the Civil War and how he had to keep law and order against that band of “outlaws and thieves that caused so much trouble for the good people of Jones County.” My grandmother (Ethel Freeman DeVall) also told me on repeated occasions “that ole Newt Knight surely did stir up a lot of trouble in Jones County.” My grandmother was from Alabama and did not even arrive in Ellisville until 1898. However, I am sure she reflected the thinking of some of the citizens of Jones County as well as that of her future father-in-law.

 Edmond Maclin’s two brothers both served in the Civil War. Edward, at the age of 21 or 22, enlisted in Co. “C”, 7th Battalion, Ms Infantry, in May 1862 and died on Nov. 15, 1862, of wounds received at the Battle of Iuka. He left behind a wife, who I believe was Mary Ann Taylor (b 1839-Al), and a two-year-old son named John Knox DeVall. Both disappeared from records soon after his death. The 1860 census showed Edward to be a farmer with real estate valued at $250. His unmarried brother, Charles, was  still living with the family. Charles, at the age of 18, enlisted in CO “K,” 8th Ms Infantry, in May 1861 and served until he died at the Battle of Franklin in November of 1864. 

 Edmond Maclin’s sister, Melvoe Emily DeVall, married Hardy Parker, son of James Leander Parker* and Mary Anderson, in 1859. Shortly after, a group of Jones County citizens moved to Angelina County, Texas. Melvoe and Hardy Parker raised their family in Angelina County and Melvoe died in 1880 in child birth.

 I remember being raised with values related to integrity, honesty, loyalty to family and being a good citizen. My father did not think those values up in a vacuum. My grandfather provided for several families during the Great Depression in Jones Co and was a respected member of his community. Those values must have been something he learned from his father, Edmond Maclin DeVall. I am able to understand that he did not want to “recognize” a group of Jones County Scouts because he viewed them as being outside the law and not being good citizens. The fact that two of his brothers had died in the Civil War and a sister had left the county completely and moved to Texas probably only intensified his determination to dismiss the existence of citizens he viewed as deserters and outlaws. He experienced the Civil War deaths of two brothers who were poor farmers and yet did not come home, but stayed and fought.

Edmond was married to Mary Jane Welborn, the daughter of Joel E Welborn, and probably had a mentor or two in the bunch who were father figures. His loyalties were to “order, community and family.” He must have been a man of great passion whom I wish I had known. I can’t help but wonder if Edmond Maclin and Jasper Collins ever had any heated discussions!

 Vikki, as you said in your dedication in Free State of Jones, “Now I understand”

 Thanks again for allowing me this opportunity and thank you many times over for the books.

Cindy

*Despite his strong Confederate credentials, E.M. DeVall’s kinship ties with the Andersons and the Parkers link him to the staunchly Unionist Collins family. Such kinship links were common among Jones County’s Confederate and Unionist families, complicating the story of its inner civil war considerably.

 Vikki

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A conversation with Victoria E. Bynum  

Author of The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies  

Published April 15, 2010  

$35.00 hardcover, ISBN 978-0-8078-3381-0  

The Long Shadow of the Civil War

  

Q. There seems no end to books about the American Civil War. What does The Long Shadow of the Civil War offer that is new?
A.
Although Civil War books about the home front are not new, this is a new sort of home front study that focuses on three communities from three different states. Rather than close with the war and Reconstruction, The Long Shadow of the Civil War follows individual Unionists and multiracial families into the New South era and, in some cases, into the twentieth century. This historical sweep allows the reader to understand the ongoing effects of the war at its most personal levels.
   

Q. What led you to combine three Civil War home fronts, all noted as areas of violent disorder, in one study? Why these three?
A.
Most basically, I combined them in order to provide in-depth comparisons of the communities within the same volume. But there’s more to it than that; the communities have important links to one another. The North Carolina Piedmont was the ancestral seedbed of migration into what became Jones County, Mississippi. Later, East Texas attracted many non-slaveholding Mississippi families seeking a less-developed piney woods region.  

All three regions exhibited fierce Unionist activity during the Civil War, with brothers fighting in separate deserter bands across state lines in two of the communities. So, combining them in one study provided a wonderful opportunity to identify common characteristics of Southern Unionism, while also showing how different geographic settings influenced the nature of the inner civil wars.
   

Q. What were the most important similarities among the three communities of dissent? The most important differences?  

A. All three communities were located outside the South’s plantation belt and all had large non-slaveholding majorities. Important differences were religious practices and length of settlement. The North Carolina Quaker Belt had a history of religious dissent that included Moravian, Mennonite and Dunker sects as well as Quakers.   

Beginning around 1848, Wesleyan Methodism, with its anti-slavery ideals, gained popularity in this region. The Quaker Belt was also a long-settled region of expansive, deeply entwined family networks that lent force and stability to anti-Confederate sentiments.

By contrast, neither Jones County, Mississippi, nor Hardin County, Texas, exhibited significant or organized religious dissent against slavery. As in North Carolina, family networks were important to anti-Confederate activity; however, in East Texas, more recent migration from states like Mississippi meant that family networks were less extensive there. Less cohesive and deeply rooted communities, coupled with politicians’ successful linking of Texas’s 1836 revolution to the Southern cause of secession, undermined organized anti-Confederate activity among non-slaveholders in East Texas.  

Q. Why did you return to the Free State of Jones County, Mississippi, and to the North Carolina Quaker Belt, two regions that you wrote about in previous books, for this study?
A.
Ever since I discovered that a splinter band of Unionist deserters, led by several brothers of members of the Jones County band, kept Confederate forces at bay in the Texas Big Thicket, and after discovering ancestral links between the North Carolina Piedmont and Jones County, Mississippi, I have wanted to combine the inner civil wars of these three regions in the same volume. Doing so also gave me the opportunity to analyze research materials that were not included in my earlier works: two examples are documents concerning the lives of freedpeople and poor whites in Orange County, North Carolina, and Newt Knight’s 1887-1900 Mississippi claim files.  

Q. You cite abolitionism as a motive for anti-Confederate sentiments in only one of your three communities: that of the Randolph County area of the North Carolina Quaker Belt. How and why did religion play such an important role in this region, but not in Jones County, Mississippi, or the Big Thicket of East Texas?
A.
The Randolph County area of North Carolina (including Montgomery and Moore Counties) was the “heart” of the state’s Quaker Belt. Quaker opposition to slavery had faded over time because of the state’s changing demographics, but it never entirely disappeared, making this region fertile ground for Wesleyan Methodists who gained a foothold in the 1850s. In Montgomery County, the Rev. Adam Crooks condemned slavery from the pulpit of the Lovejoy Methodist Church. In contrast, Jones County, Mississippi and Hardin County, Texas, were Baptist strongholds during the secession crisis. I have found no evidence that any Baptist church in either county publically opposed slavery or secession; indeed, the Leaf River Baptist Church of Jones County publically supported the Confederacy.
   

Q. Newt Knight, the controversial “captain” of the Knight Company, is a polarizing figure who even today evokes heated arguments among readers. Why is this so, and how did it affect your historical treatment of him?
A.
As long as we continue to debate the causes, meanings, and effects of the Civil War, Newt Knight’s motives and character will also be debated. We know that he defied Confederate authority during the war, supported Republican Reconstruction afterward, and openly crossed the color line to found a mixed-race community. To neo-Confederates, such facts make Newt a scoundrel and a traitor to his country and his race. To neo-abolitionists, he is a backwoods Mississippi hero who defended his nation and struggled to uplift the black race. My response to such powerful and emotional narratives is to examine critically not only the documentary evidence, but also the mountain of published opinions about Newt Knight that have too often functioned as “evidence” for both sides of the debate.  

Q. Newt Knight, his white wife Serena, and former family slave, Rachel, were the founding parents of a multiracial community. What sort of a community was it in terms of racial identity? How did members of the community identify themselves racially, as opposed to how the larger white society defined them?
A. As segregation took hold in New South Mississippi (1880-1900), the descendants of Newt, Serena, and Rachel were increasingly defined by white society as black, i.e. as “Negroes,” despite being of European, African, and Native American ancestry. Before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s, however, few of these descendants identified themselves as “black.” Depending on their physical appearance, including skin shade and hair texture, descendants of Newt and Rachel variously defined themselves as white, Indian, or colored. Whereas white society applied a “one drop rule” that grouped together all people of African ancestry, these descendants self-identified in ways that reflected their multiracial heritage.  

There is no direct evidence of how Newt, Serena, or Rachel racially identified their multiracial descendants. Descendant Yvonne Bivins, the most thorough Knight researcher, was told by her elders that Newt Knight actively encouraged his descendants to identify as white. All that is certain—but nonetheless remarkable—is that they economically supported, nurtured, and lived openly among both white and multiracial kinfolk all their lives.  

Q. By crossing the color line, Newt Knight deviated from the norm by acknowledging and supporting his multiracial descendants. What may we deduce from those facts about his political views on race relations in the era of segregation?
A.
Since we don’t know that Newt Knight identified his multiracial descendants as “black,” we can’t deduce from his intimate relationships with them, or by his efforts to enroll them in a local school (one that he helped create) alongside his white descendants, that he supported equality for all people of African ancestry—that is, for people classed as “Negroes.” Only if we adhere to the “one drop rule”—and assume that Newt Knight did, too—can we conclude that Newt’s protection of his own kinfolk extended to all Americans of African ancestry.  

Newt’s efforts on behalf of freedpeople as a Republican appointee during Reconstruction do not necessarily make him an advocate of black equality, as some historians have argued. There were many Reconstruction Republicans who supported the same basic rights of marriage and military service that Newt upheld for freedpeople, while supporting segregation and opposing black voting rights. We simply don’t know Newt’s political position on these issues.  

Q. For thirty years, Newt Knight petitioned the federal government to compensate his ad hoc military band, the Knight Company, for its support of the Union during the Civil War. What do those petitions reveal about the claims process itself, as well as the Knight Band?
A.
The transcripts from Newt Knight’s extensive claims files suggest the federal government’s hostility toward claims of Southern Unionism, especially after 1887, as the nation sank into a deep economic depression. That year, Newt renewed efforts begun in 1870 to win compensation.  

Several depositions of Jones County men made a strong case for Unionism among the Knight Company. The passage of time, however, doomed Newt’s claim to failure. His Washington, DC lawyers were unfamiliar with the Jones County uprising, while witnesses’ memories of the war faded over time. Most damaging, crucial evidence presented in Knight’s 1870 petition was misplaced by the government and never presented after 1887. At the same time, an expanding literature that portrayed the white South as having been unified around secession made Northerners all the more suspicious of Southern claims of Unionism.  

Q. The Long Shadow of the Civil War is as much about the legacies of Civil War dissent as about the war itself. Why did you include both topics in a single volume?
A.
To truly understand the Civil War, we need to understand its long-term impact on the lives of those who endured it. Southerners who took a Unionist stance lived with that decision all their lives, as did their children and grandchildren. Some struggled to put the war behind them and never spoke of it again; others, like Newt Knight and Warren Collins, defended their actions all their lives, and went on to fight new political battles.  

Multiracial communities that grew out of war and emancipation grew larger and more complex in the late nineteenth century. Faced with racial violence and segregation, many of their members exited the South during these years. But among those who remained, we witness the birth of a multiracial Southern middle class.
   

Q. You locate a long tradition of political dissent among certain Jones County families that found expression in third party political movements after the Civil War. How does this New South agrarian radicalism shed light on Civil War Unionism and vice versa?
A.
In all three regions, I found examples of emerging class consciousness among non-slaveholding farmers as a result of the Civil War. Late in life, Newt Knight, for example, offered a class-based critique of Southern society. Two prominent Unionist brothers, Jasper J. Collins of Jones County, Mississippi, and Warren J. Collins of Hardin County, Texas, went even further, carving out political careers as populists and socialists in two separate states.  

A close study of individual lives reveals how the Civil War reshaped their perspectives. Of course, the majority of Southern Unionists did not join third-party political movements in the aftermath of war. It appears, however, that some ideologically committed Unionists, such as the Collinses of Mississippi and Texas, grew ever more militant in their political views as the years passed.  

Q. Your epilogue, “Fathers and Sons,” compares and contrasts three twentieth-century histories of individual guerrilla leaders written by their sons. What do these biographical sketches reveal about the impact of kinship and politics on the Civil War memories of Southern Unionist families?
A.
All three biographies were written after the deaths of their subjects, and reflect the need for sons to defend notorious fathers against charges of treason, lawlessness, or ignorance—especially in the wake of New South glorification of the Confederate cause. Further complicating Tom Knight’s biography of Newt Knight was his effort to present his father as a hero to the segregated, virulently white supremacist society of the 1930s. At the time of Newt’s death, Tom was estranged from him and the family’s interracial community. He knew little about his father’s early years (his narrative is studded with factual errors) and his “memories” of Newt Knight during the Civil War and Reconstruction were profoundly influenced by his need to valorize Newt and thereby restore respect for his family. Though very different in tone and accuracy, Vinson A. Collins’s and Loren Collins’s biographies of their fathers, Warren J. Collins of Texas and Jasper J. Collins of Mississippi, are presented not only with a sense of each son’s relationship with his father, but also in the context of the nation’s politicized memories of the Civil War.  

###
This interview may be reprinted in its entirety with the following credit: A conversation with Victoria E. Bynum, author of The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies (University of North Carolina Press, Spring 2010). The text of this interview is available at http://www.ibiblio.org/uncp/media/bynum/.
                                                                                                                              PUBLISHING DETAILS
ISBN 978-0-8078-3381-0, $35.00 hardcover
Publication date: April 15, 2010
240 pp., 9 illus., 1 map, bibl., notes, bibl., index
For more information: http://uncpress.unc.edu/books/T-7790.html
The University of North Carolina Press, http://www.uncpress.unc.edu
116 South Boundary Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27514-3808
919-966-3561 (office) 1-800-848-6224 (orders) 919-966-3829 (fax)  

CONTACTS
Publicity: Gina Mahalek, 919-962-0581; gina_mahalek@unc.edu
Sales: Michael Donatelli, 919-962-0475; michael_donatelli@unc.edu
Rights: Vicky Wells, 919-962-0369; vicky_wells@unc.edu

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I’m excited to announce that my new book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies, has been released!  Click here to see its table of contents.

The Long Shadow of the Civil War

To purchase a copy directly from the University of North Carolina Press, click on the title, above. You may also order it from Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

To learn more about The Long Shadow of the Civil War, watch for my next post on Renegade South, which will feature my recent Question & Answer interview with the University of North Carolina Press.

Vikki Bynum

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Figuring out the racial views of white southerners who opposed the Confederacy can be difficult. It is tempting, for example, to interpret white nonslaveholders’ economic resentment of slaveholders as evidence that they opposed slavery itself, but the two sentiments often did not coincide.  And, even when nonslaveholders did express hatred of slavery, one must be careful not to equate that hatred with abolitionism, since relatively few southern whites actively worked to bring about its end. Certainly, deserting the Confederacy and/or joining the Union Army only rarely indicated that a Southern soldier embraced abolitionism. 

No such ambiguity, however, clouds our understanding of Moncure Conway (1832-1907), who both detested slavery and worked to bring about its end. I have been thinking a lot about Conway, one of the South’s best-known abolitionists, ever since administrators of the Moncure Conway Foundation invited me to give a talk there this coming March on Southern women and the Civil War.*   

Speaking on behalf of the Conway Foundaton in Fredericksburg, Virginia, seems a perfect setting for the presentation since my topic includes the antislavery Wesleyan Methodist community located in the heart of North Carolina’s Quaker Belt (the Randolph-Montgomery County area).  Despite differences of class and religion, Moncure Conway and North Carolina’s Wesleyan Methodists both exemplify southern dissent against the Confederacy. 

A Wesleyan-Methodist family from the N.C. Quaker Belt: Caroline Hulin and sons. Husband and father Jesse Hulin was martyred during the Civil War for his refusal to serve the Confederacy. Photo courtesy of Elaine Reynolds.

 

They also demonstrate dissent’s various forms. Unlike my subjects, Conway was neither a yeoman farmer nor a Wesleyan Methodist (although he was raised a Methodist). Rather, he was the son of a prominent Virginia slaveholder and a deeply religious mother. Influenced by his mother’s humanitarian views, Conway was drawn to the ideas of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Transcendentalism before the age of twenty. He attended Harvard, and during the 1850s joined the Northern abolitionist movement, meeting reformers such as Theodore Parker, William Lloyd Garrison, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Wendell Phillips.  

Conway, a Unitarian minister, joined these religious radicals in rejecting contemplative intellectualism in favor of social activism and moral reform. He considered slavery to be the nation’s greatest sin, and, in 1856, he publicly denounced the institution from his Washington D.C. pulpit. As a result, he was ousted from his church, but soon found a new position in an Cincinnati ministry dedicated to abolition. 

After moving to Ohio, Moncure married Ellen Davis Dana, a Unitarian abolitionist and woman’s suffragist who shared his vision of society. Many members of his family, with the exception of his mother, were incensed by his increasingly militant views and broke ties with him. Yet, despite the profound influence of Northern intellectuals, his Harvard education, and rejection by family and friends, Conway’s Southern roots made him sensitive to the plight of the South during the Civil War. A pacifist, he initially opposed war as a means to ending slavery, but convinced himself that a “holy war” against slavery would be a just war. In his 1861 work, The Rejected Stone, he pronounced the Civil War a “revolution,” one in which God would fulfill his vision of humankind.  

Torn between his belief that slavery was inhumane and equally strong belief that war degraded all humankind, Conway soon became disenchanted with the Unionist cause. His concern for Southern society, black and white, fueled frustration with President Lincoln’s conservative half-measures in regard to emancipation, as well as with many abolitionists’ willingness to support a war that did not promise freedom to all African Americans. In late 1862, in a work entitled The Golden Hour, Conway warned that the Administration’s foot- dragging on emancipation of all slaves threatened to destroy the North’s credibility in an increasingly brutal and savage war.  

Before war’s end, Conway’s disenchantment with the Union cause was complete, as he came to believe that even Northern abolitionists were more interested in conquering the South than achieving liberty for slaves. “I for one wash my hands of it forever!” he wrote to his wife from England. Although the Conways lived for short periods of time in New York City, after the war, England (and less so, France) became their new home. 

In London, Conway became the minister of South Place Chapel, founded in 1793 as a dissenting Universalist church. Although Unitarian in name, the church embraced humanitarian free thought under Conway’s leadership. I am reminded here of Jasper Collins of the Free State of Jones, who helped to found a Universalist Church in the middle of the Mississippi piney woods. Unlike Moncure, Jasper never gave up on remaining in the society that produced him, despite his opposition to secession and the Confederacy. But he did continue to seek alternatives to conventional political and religious structures, choosing the People’s Party over the Democratic Party, and the Universalist Church over the Baptist Church. 

Jasper J. Collins, Civil War Unionist, New South Populist and Universalist. Photo courtesy of Constance Bradley.

 

The postwar lives of Jasper Collins and Moncure Conway, both of whom lived into the twentieth century,  remind us that the Civil War’s impact on the behavior of Southern dissenters reached far beyond the war itself. 

Vikki Bynum 

NOTE: For an excellent overview of Moncure Conway’s life, including a bibliography of sources, see Charles A. Howe’s “Moncure Conway,”  Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography. 

*On Sunday, 2 p.m., March 21, 2010, I will present “Defying Convention: Women, Race, and Class in the Civil War South,” at the Gari Melchers Home and Studio at Belmont, Fredericksburg, VA, a neighboring site of the Moncure Conway House (event hosted by the Moncure Conway Foundation).

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Researching Civil War Home Fronts and Beyond

by Vikki Bynum

Back in fall, 2001, just months after the release of my book, Free State of Jones, David Woodbury (moderator of Battlefields and Bibliophiles) interviewed me for the Civil War Forum Conference Series. As I read today the questions that he and others posed, and my answers to them, it becomes clear why I wrote The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies. There was so much more I wanted to know, or knew and wanted to tell. For example, although I identified the Collins and allied families as representing the heart of Jones County Unionism, I had only touched on the parallel renegade band led by another branch of the same family in the Big Thicket of East Texas.  Likewise, I had barely tapped into records detailing the postwar political activism of Collinses in both Mississippi and Texas.  And then there was Newt Knight himself. I obtained copies of Newt’s voluminous claim files of 1887-1900 from independent researcher Ken Welch shortly before Free State of Jones went to press. Although the claim files did not change my essential understanding of Newt Knight, they provided such rich detail about the claims process, and the men who either joined or opposed the Knight Band, that I decided to devote a chapter to them in the new book. In yet another chapter, I expanded on the history of the multiracial Knight community that resulted from collaboration between Newt Knight and Rachel, the former slave of his grandfather. For the new book, I also returned to my research on the Unionists of the North Carolina Piedmont who figured so prominently in my first book, Unruly Women. The inner civil war that raged in North Carolina’s “Quaker Belt” (Montgomery, Moore, and Randolph Counties) had stimulated me to research the similar “war” of Jones County.  Yet, despite their similarities, I soon discovered important differences between these Civil War home front wars. That’s when I decided to compare all three communities of dissent–those of Jones Co., MS, the NC Quaker Belt, and the Big Thicket of East Texas–in the same volume. And so the idea for Long Shadow of the Civil War was born. As you read the 2001 question and answer session that follows, I think you’ll understand why I felt compelled to continue my research on southern dissenters, and to expand the story even further beyond the Civil War. My thanks to David Woodbury for permission to repost his Q & A session with me.

 

Transcript of the 35th session of the Civil War Forum Conference Series. GUEST: Dr. Victoria Bynum TOPIC: The subject of her book, “The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War” Date: October 25, 2001 ——————————– Greetings, and welcome to the  35th session of the Civil War Forum conference series. We are very pleased tonight to have with us Dr. Victoria Bynum, professor of history at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, discussing the subject of her new book: “The Free State of Jones: Mississippi’s Longest Civil War” (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001). Let’s get started.

Q. (David Woodbury): Welcome Dr. Bynum.  Since this is probably a fairly obscure topic even among Civil War buffs, can you begin with an overview of Jones County, and what set it apart from the rest of Mississippi (e.g., the paucity of slaves there), and the events that gave rise to stories of the so-called “Free State,” or Kingdom of Jones?

A. (Victoria Bynum): Jones County was founded in 1826, and it’s part of one of the earlier-settled sections of Mississippi (because of Native Americans already being pushed out of that part of the state, but not out of the more fertile portions of Mississippi). Many of the earliest settlers were veterans of the War of 1812, especially. I won’t go too much into it, but because it was the Piney Woods region, you didn’t have a great many slaveholders there. Slavery was important — there were slaveholders — but not many *big* slaveholders. It had the lowest number of slaveholders of any county in the state, and almost 80 percent of those slaveholders owned fewer than four slaves. So, just to leap forward to the Civil War itself, this was a region that was pretty ripe — by around 1862 — for seeing the war as a “rich man’s war” and “poor man’s fight,” because they were the poorest men in the state. I don’t want to imply that they were landless, because they were small landowners, but in terms of slaveholders, they were the poorest in the state. [The county] voted almost 2-1 against secession. Moving ahead to the 20th century about how all these stories got started — what made this story so legendary and why it has persisted so long is that the leader of this band of deserters crossed the color line. Now, it’s not that crossing the color line was so unusual, it’s the way that Newton Knight did it. He not only crossed the line, but two of his children intermarried with the children of the slave woman who was his chief collaborator (it was after the war that they intermarried — she was his collaborator during the war). And that resulted in a mixed-race community that’s still very vibrant today — a very large mixed-race community that claims descent from Rachel the slave, and Newton, the leader of the deserter band. …So you’ve had this ongoing battle — this is why I make the second part of the title, “Mississippi’s Longest Civil War,” because factions of this family have been debating the meaning of this uprising since the Civil War. And with the racial aspect, it has made the debate particularly volatile. Those who wanted to defend the Unionism of the Knight band generally just erased the story of the race-mixing, and those who were pro-Confederate . . . used the racial mixing as just further examples that these were deviant men who committed treason against the country, against the Confederacy, and against their race. That’s why the story has lasted, [and] because there have been several books written, and a novel, and even a movie made from the novel.

Q. (David Woodbury): One of the fun things about reading your book is the spirit of investigation, or discovery, in unmasking the past. Can you recall any major breakthroughs during the course of your research, or any particular surprises you encountered upon digging deeper?

A. (Victoria Bynum): I believe some of the most delightful surprises were the ongoing discoveries I made about the Collins family — I believe that their story is one that was buried because of the notoriety of Newt Knight. The discovery that their ancestors were both Regulators back in the 1760s and Populists in the 1890s kind of gave me a whole view of Southern dissent as represented by this family, in a way that just stood right out — and made them the core of the Unionist group there, rather than Newt Knight. And I want to add that probably the biggest surprise was that the Collinses had brothers in Texas who were leaders of their own deserter band, so there were actually two deserter bands which existed simultaneously. It just showed the uncompromising nature of their Unionism; not nearly all the deserters were as Unionist as the Collins’s. There was a core group of about five different families that I would call truly Unionist. Putting that together was very exciting, because I kept finding connections between the very distant past, and the Civil War era, and connections between the  various families as well.

Q. (Margaret  D. Blough): What was the reaction of the Confederate authorities? Was it as  brutal as the suppression of the earlier East Tennessee Unionist uprising?

A. (Victoria Bynum): I’m not sure just how brutal that was, in terms of making an exact comparison, but the Confederacy did send two expeditions into Jones County to put down the uprisings there, and in the Official Records [of the Confederate and Union Armies] there is quite a bit of discussion of Jones County. The most important example is Colonel Lowry’s raid on Jones County. In the space of a few days, they executed ten members of the Knight Company –the Knight Band. That was the worst experience that the  Jones County group experienced. I imagine that it was probably worse in East Tennessee due to the geographic location. Jones County was still pretty remote, and there weren’t as many raids.

Q. (Teresa N. Blaurock): So nice to have you here to tell us more about your book! My co-workers, not Civil War buffs, were intrigued by the subject, and seemed ready to read more on the topic. One question I had is about “jeans” cloth. Can you tell us anything about it?

A. (Victoria Bynum): [You're] referring to when Newton Knight — in 1865, he was relief commissioner — had an order from the military government in place at that time to seize a certain amount of goods from the former CSA representative of the county, who was a merchant, and they refer to Jeans cloth in there…

Q. (Stevan F. Meserve): Jeans cloth is not denim, but a particular weave of wool. It was  commonly used in uniform trousers. I just had to stick that in. My question is about Unionist sentiment in Jones County. How many precincts of the county voted to remain in the Union? Here in Loudoun County, Virginia, for example, three of 16 precincts voted to remain in the Union.  Overall, the county voted 2:1 to secede.

A. (Victoria Bynum): All I know — that I’ve been able to find — is that 166 people voted against secession, and I believe it was about 89 who voted for it… Let’s see… Yes, 166 for the Cooperationist Candidate, and 89 for the Secessionist Candidate. In fact, neighboring Perry County (I don’t have those numbers with me) was even more Unionist. So Jones County was not isolated in that respect. The Perry County delegate held out longer.

Q. (Margaret  D. Blough): Did any of the Jones County Unionists articulate why they supported the Union? The pressure must have been intense in the Deep South for secession?

A. (Victoria Bynum): Yes, of course in their county they didn’t feel that so directly — more so when the war began — but (after the war) they cited the 20 Negro Law [when] citing reasons for their desertion from the Confederacy. The only articulated Unionist statements are by the Collins family, who did not believe that the election of Abraham Lincoln was grounds for secession. And there’s a quote of a certain Collins brother counseling men to try to get duty in the hospitals as nurses if they did join the service — that they should not fight against the Union. And one more statement attributed to the Collinses is that while they didn’t believe in slavery, they also did not believe that the federal government had the right to end it.

Q. (Teresa N. Blaurock): Early in the book, you describe rivers that were dammed to provide power for mills, but preventing fishing for those needing to do that. It seems such a conflict! I know the Jones County deserters were really against the 20 Negro Law, which was the objection to “government” in their era.

A. (Victoria Bynum): One of the things that I found, as you no doubt noticed, were that these were people who were very touchy about the government’s role in their lives. And again to use the Collinses as an example, since they were always in the thick of it — as they moved across the frontier they continued petitioning the government to respect their rights as citizens and to provide them protection, not only against Indians, but against corrupt local officials. So this is a theme that runs throughout their history, and I think that’s the point that you’re making with your comment.

Q. (David Woodbury): It sounds like your research benefited nearly as much from elderly locals and descendants as it did from archival work. That is, they were able to show you things, like the grave sites of Newt and Rachel Knight. Could you have written this book 20 or 30 years from now, after many of these people are gone?

separate photos of tombstones of Rachel (left) and Newt Knight. Photos by Victoria Bynum

A. (Victoria Bynum): I agree that my personal contacts with descendants was really crucial to the book, and no I couldn’t have written the same book. I could have written *a* book — a study — but in fact when I started writing this book I had no idea that I would achieve the kind of contact with local people that I did. It brought perspectives that I just don’t think I could have pieced together from archival documents. In particular, I don’t think I could have described the mixed race community if I hadn’t spent a lot of time among the descendants of Rachel and Newton Knight… And I don’t believe I could have written *nearly* the kind of study of their community without that personal contact. That was crucial.

Q. (Margaret  D. Blough): To tie into what Terry asked, I’ve seen some opinions that many of the Unionists areas in North Carolina, etc., in the mountains had had no experience with the US government, except for the postal system and the first experience they had with an intrusive government was Confederate authorities enforcing the conscription and impressment laws?  Is that what you saw?

A. (Victoria Bynum): I would say that in general that was true, once they settled in Jones County, that they had a lot of local autonomy. Some writers suggest there was no real government in Jones County before the war, but that just isn’t true. But it is fair to say that they had very limited contact with state government at the top, or federal government. However, I would still point out that their frontier petitions do show quite an interest in the Federal government and  its power. They have a long history of protest of corrupt local government, and I suspect that during the Civil War they developed a similar relationship with the Federal government, because they saw the Confederacy as another example of corrupt local government. That tradition goes all the way back to the Regulators.

Q. (David Woodbury): You include a photograph of the Leaf River in your book, “site of Deserter’s Den — the Knight Company’s Civil War hideout.” Were you able to pinpoint the actual location, and what is there today  (presumably private property)?

The Leaf River, intersection of Covington and Jones Co., MS, site of Deserters’ Den. Photo by Victoria Bynum

A. (Victoria Bynum): It is private property today. I took the photo myself and I was taken there by one of those local old-timers. Not very far from that river — the site of that river in the photograph — is the cemetery of Newton Knight’s grandfather. That land is now in the hands of a private company, and we had to be escorted into the cemetery by someone who had a key… But all of those lands used to be owned by the core members of the deserter band.

Q. (Stevan F. Meserve): On the subject of “intrusive” government, how much intrusion did Jones County see during the war from officials on either side? The territory between Hattiesburg and Meridian was pretty much no man’s land, wasn’t it?

A. (Victoria Bynum): I think it was pretty much considered no-man’s land between those areas. The Confederacy managed to have a Home Guard unit down in Jones County, headed by a local Confederate officer, and that was Amos McLemore, reputed to have been murdered by Newt Knight and his men. By April of 1864, when more and more reports were reaching Confederate officials elsewhere that Jones County was under the control of deserters, and they had murdered some of the tax agents, then they sent the two expeditions I mentioned earlier… Col. Maury, in March (1864), subdued the deserters a bit but they came back just as strong, so then they sent Col. Robert Lowry in April. Now that really did splinter the band. He executed ten of them, and that’s when a number of them fled to New Orleans and joined the Union army. About 40 — they weren’t all members of the band — about 40 Jones County men joined the Union Army in New Orleans… And then about 15 men were captured and forced back into the Confederate army. That left about 20 more whom they never caught, including Newt Knight, still out in the swamps.

Q. (Teresa N. Blaurock): You describe the prominent role of women in the book. Using “polecat musk and red pepper” to throw off the scent of the men from the dogs was rather emphatic. How did that come to be known as the thing to use?

A. (Victoria Bynum): Well, according to Ethel Knight, who wrote the best known book (The Echo of the Black Horn, 1951), the white women learned it from Rachel, the slave. I don’t know where she got her information from.

Q. (Azby): In your opinion, at what point did the Civil War become “inevitable”?  question?

A. (Victoria Bynum): I would suppose that once Lincoln called for troops from the South, and even many who opposed secession turned the other way — when the image of invasion became a vivid one, the firing on Fort Sumter and the call for troops, one could say that’s when it began to appear inevitable. Or you could look at it more broadly, and simply say that when the Northern states put in their constitutions gradual emancipation while the South simultaneously began designs for expanding slavery into the Southwest, some would say that’s when war became inevitable. But I’m not real big on “inevitability.”

Q. (David Woodbury): When did you first hear of the legend about Jones County in the Civil War? And what first drew you to this as a subject of scholarly research?

A. (Victoria Bynum): I first learned about Jones County around 1976 when I was an undergraduate in college. I saw it in a footnote in the Randall and Donald — the old Civil War text [Randall, James G., and David H. Donald. The Civil War and Reconstruction]. I did not hear about it from within my own family, even though my father was born in Jones County. What drew me to it as a subject of scholarship was writing my first book, Unruly Women. I have two chapters on the Civil War there, and one of those chapters centers on a county very similar to Jones County in many ways, and that’s Montgomery County, North Carolina. …But I just became fascinated with the topic of Southern Unionism, and the way that entire families were involved in resisting the Confederacy. It was both the class element in it, and the participation of women and free blacks in North Carolina that made me then want to look at Jones County. So, it was only as I developed as a historian myself that I decided I would like to do a study of Jones County.

Q. (David Woodbury): Would you talk a little bit about the so-called “white Negro” community in Jones County after the war, the trial of Davis Knight in the 1940s, and why this is such an important part of the story of “The Free State of Jones.”

A. (Victoria Bynum): I think it’s incredibly important because it reveals how 20th century race relations and segregation buried the story of the Free State of Jones beneath all these stereotypes about race-mixing, and then combined with the Myth of the Lost Cause, which presented Unionists as treasonous. The story had just become so distorted. And so I began and ended the book with the trial to basically look at why race was such a volatile part of the story, and then to move from there to look at the story of a class-based uprising of white men that is an important story in its own right, and would not have been buried so deeply if it had not been for the obsession with Newton Knight’s interracial relationship with Rachel. And so I was determined to tell both stories, and particularly to try to bring back the stories of all these other members of Knight’s band who had just sort of been lost from the picture. Thanks everyone. The questions were good ones, I enjoyed them.

The Long Shadow of the Civil War (University of North Carolina Press, 2010)

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My forthcoming book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War: Southern Dissent and Its Legacies, will feature Unionist communities from the North Carolina Quaker Belt as well as Mississippi and Texas. Recently, I received a series of comments and questions from Amanda Hall and Kelly Atkins Hinson, descendants of the Hulin and Atkins families of Civil War Montgomery County, North Carolina. (See their comments following Unionists at War in the N.C. Quaker Belt).
 
Three Hulin brothers, John, Jesse, and William, and a cousin, James Atkins, were members of a Wesleyan Methodist community headed by patriarchs Hiram Hulin and Valentine Moore, and known for its anti-slavery views and opposition to the Confederacy during the Civil War. In early January, 1865, the Hulin brothers and Atkins were killed by pro-Confederate forces for refusing to serve the Confederate Army (see here and here).

Amanda and Kelly expressed interest in seeing the following letter written to Governor Zeb Vance during the midst of the war by John A. Beaman, grandson of Valentine Moore and brother-in-law to Hiram Hulin. The letter is undated, but was probably written before Beaman’s Hulin and Atkins cousins were killed.

I discovered the letter in the N.C. Governors’ Papers in 1983 while researching my doctoral dissertation (the basis for Unruly Women). As a graduate student, finding Beaman’s letter fueled my fascination with anti-Confederate sentiments among the southern yeomanry. In it, he does not discuss religious ideology or political philosophy, but does express the rage felt by many nonslaveholding farmers over Confederate exemption policies that privileged slaveholding planters and manufacturers over plain farmers.

Except for adding punctuation and a few dropped letters, I have transcribed Beaman’s letter just as he wrote it. Despite his frequent misspellings, John was more literate than most Southern farmers of the time, and he did not let his rudimentary education prevent him from addressing Governor Vance as an elected official who needed to hear the opinions of his constituents.

Mr. Z. B. Vance

Mr. Z. V., gov, I take the presant opertunity of droping you a few lines to inform you [of] the condition of my settlement and our county and the parciality of the conscript law [so] you know the rotnest of it and the men that is exempted by it; and unles it is repeald you can’t think us conscrps will obey the call that is made. You know the farmer is the life of hour country and I want you to tell me one farmer exempted unles he has twenty slaves; and I want you to tell me one of them that has anything to sell tht will sell for confedrt money

I have trid [to buy from] them and also I hav trid [to buy from] the manufactors that is exempted; and corn or bacon they must have [for payment] or you cant buy cotn [cotten] yarn or shurtin [shirting]. Confedrit money they will not hav, and I want you to tell me hough hour family will liv if we leav to fight for such men as these. We air forced to revlutionize unles this roten conscript exemption law is put down, for they are laws wee don’t intend to obey, for wee farmers had as well to be exempted as the slavholder and the manufactory for we air the life of the hole [country].

I hav made moor corn and mor wheat and more bacon than any slavholder in the confedret state for sale, and I hav dun more smithin than any smith in hour county–for nothin acordin to my fose [foes?]; and yet I must go to fight for the seeceders and all mechanics and men who air doing no good at tall at home.

Mr. Vance, I want you to send me some exemptions for I am doing no good at tall, for they want me to fight and I am bound not to go unless all the rest of the blacksmiths and manufactors do. 

Gov, I will close

John A. Beaman to Mr. Gov. Vance

Note: To visit this book’s page at the University of North Carolina website, click here.

 

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Widow and sons of Jesse Hulin, killed by vigilantes for refusing to fight for the Confederacy

Widow and sons of Jesse Hulin, killed by vigilantes for refusing to fight for the Confederacy

Post by Victoria Bynum; quoted passages by Thoburn Freeman, grandson of Sarah Ann Hulin Moore and great-nephew of Caroline Moore Hulin.

Determining what made fierce Unionists of some southerners is not always easy. Was it class? religion? distance from the cotton belt? In the case of Unionists who lived on the borders of Randolph and Montgomery counties, in the North Carolina Piedmont, the answer is easy: it was all three. Several interrelated families in this region–principally the Hulins, Moores, Beamans, and Hurleys–were nonslaveholding yeoman farmers who lived in the heart of North Carolina’s Quaker Belt and outside the South’s plantation belt. They were also devout members of the antislavery Wesleyan Methodist Church, which grew in numbers throughout the 1850s (for more on this community, click here).   

I wrote about these families in my first book, Unruly Women (Chapel Hill, UNC Press, 1992), and I return to their story in the forthcoming Long Shadow of the Civil War. Recently, I got in touch with Linda Beaulieu of the Montgomery Herald in Troy, NC, who graciously put me in touch with Elaine Reynolds, the keeper of the Hulin family papers. It was Elaine who generously provided me with the photos that accompany this post. She also sent me an essay written by Hulin/Moore descendant Thoburn Freeman, which was originally published in Winnie Richter’s Heritage of Montgomery County, NC (1981). I quoted from this essay in Unruly Women, and I am happy to quote from it again here on Renegade South.

The lives of these men and women differed greatly from those of wealthy slaveholders:

During the years before the civil War, the people lived quietly, going about their affairs with pride and purpose. The men were busy clearing land, building fences, homes, schools, and churches. The women were busy carding, spinning and weaving, not to mention cooking on open fire with coals on the hearth, tending children and house cleaning. Everyone worked in the fields. . . . In the fall, they would hold their Camp Meetings, when the families would move out and live in “tents” constructed of logs and later, boards.

“Everyone worked the fields” meant women and children as well as men. Making a living from the soil was a family endeavor that required the hard labor of all. Still, they enjoyed family visits back and forth, which included “quiltings, log-rollings, corn shuckings, spelling bees, and, in some communities, dancing.” Then came the war . . . .

During the war, most social activities, even hunting, were interrupted and came to a halt, except for some of the older men and young boys. All were afraid of the bands of Rebels that roamed the countryside. The church at Lovejoy was Wesleyan at the time, and their ministers preached against slavery. One preacher, Adam Crooks, was arrested in the pulpit. . . . Since most of the people in the area were opposed to slavery and not in sympathy with the Southern Cause, many men chose to hide out and were called “Outlyers” by the Rebels. Among them were 3 sons of Hiram and Nancy Sexton Hulin: Jessie, John, and William.

The men relied on the aid of women to elude capture by Confederate soldiers and vigilantes (Carolina Hulin, pictured above, was the wife of Jessie). One cold January morning, their luck ran out. . . .

Near the end of the war, the three Hulin brothers were arrested and held for several days in an old mill house near Uwharrie. Then without proper trial, in the early morning hours of January 28, 1865, with a light snow on the ground, they were taken to Buck Mountain and shot to death–less than four months before Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered. The bodies were loaded onto a wagon and taken to Lovejoy Church by their father, Hiram Hulin [for more on Hiram, click here]. . . . The only offense the boys were guilty of was: they obeyed their conscience, which is the only personal contact we have with God–

Triple grave of William, John, and Jesse Hulin, Troy, NC

Triple grave of William, John, and Jesse Hulin, Troy, NC

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This is my first post since “Guerrilla Wars” that highlights the East Texas component of Long Shadow of the Civil War. The essay “Civil War Unionists as New South Radicals: Mississippi and Texas, 1865-1920″ links Warren J. Collins of Hardin County, Texas, to his brother, Jasper J. Collins, of Jones County, Mississippi. Newt Knight also makes regular appearances in this essay, since Jasper Collins was his 1st sgt. in the Knight band (See Knight Company roster, 1870).

This essay picks up after the Civil War, tracing the migration of Collins and related families to East Texas, but most especially tracing the political evolution of the brothers, Warren J. and Jasper J. Collins, into the 20th century.

Although Warren and Jasper lived in separate states, both became populists during the late 19th century, continuing their wartime rejection of conventional politics. In fact, Jasper and his son, Loren, founded Ellisville’s only known populist newspaper! Around the same time that Jasper joined the People’s Party, he also left the Baptist church to help found a Universalist Church in Jones County.

By 1910, Warren J. Collins was a socialist, although his son, Vinson, was a Democratic state senator in Texas.  I’ve found no evidence that Jasper joined the Socialist Party, but a small number of his Jones County kinfolk did.

I think you’ll be struck, as I was, by the fiercely independent political views of certain Collinses and Collins kin, during and long after the Civil War–and across state lines.

NOTE: For those interested in learning more about populists and socialists in Mississippi, I highly recommend the work of historian Stephen Cresswell. For Texas, see Gregg Cantrell, Lawrence Goodwyn, and James R. Green.

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cover page of Newt Knight's final petition to Congress, 1894

cover page of Newt Knight's final petition to Congress, 1894

Newt Knight was relentless in his efforts to gain compensation for himself and his men from the U.S. Government for having served the Union. I barely touched on his history of claims in The Free State of Jones because the National Archives, where the files are stored, could not locate most of the records when I visited there back around 1994. Thankfully, Ken Welch of Soso, Mississippi, provided me copies of the missed files back in 2000, but not in time for me to integrate them into the book.

So, in a new essay, “Fighting a Losing Battle: Newt Knight versus the U.S. Court of Claims, 1870-1900, ” which will appear in my upcoming book, The Long Shadow of the Civil War, I tell the history of those efforts. The case files are fascinating–many former members of the band, including Newt, AND opponents of the band, gave lengthy depositions! These files convince  me more than ever that the Knight Band never attempted to secede from the Confederacy, but rather rejected the Confederacy’s right to exist, at least in Jones County, which had voted against Mississippi’s secession from the Union.

But there’s much more to be learned from the files than that, and I truly enjoyed writing this essay as kind of an epilogue to The Free State of Jones. Most striking is how doggedly Newt pursued his case, right up to the dawn of the twentieth century. In the end, he and his men were denied compensation (as were the vast majority of Southern Unionists).

When I imagine Newt’s frustration with the government he claimed to have fought for during the Civil War, I think I understand why he commented around 1892 that nonslaveholding farmers in the South should have just risen up against the slaveholders rather than fight their war for them.

 

Vikki Bynum

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